By Ndifreke Okpon
The 2023 political process began in earnest on Friday, 25 February 2022 with the signing into law of the amended Electoral Act by Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari. The newly amended act is revolutionary because it allows for more independence by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). For instance, on the issue of electronic transmission of results, the Act leaves that to the discretion of INEC. Section 50 (2) prescribes that: “Subject to section 63 of this Act, voting at an election and transmission of results under this Act shall be in accordance with the procedure determined by the Commission.”
The body language of the Commission indicates that such transmission shall by electronic means. In a position paper it issued on the matter, INEC said, “The answer to the question of the desirability of electronic transmission of election results in Nigeria today may be summed up in three words – trust, efficiency and safety.” The reason for this is not far-fetched. Results even though well carried out at the polling stage have been known to have been manipulated at the collation stage even when there is adequate documentation of the electoral process.
But most worthy of note in the new electoral act is a section which President Buhari had contended with, which had caused him to return a previous version of the electoral act for further deliberation. That section is Section 84 (2) which previously restricted the selection of aspirants by political parties to direct primaries. As is evident with the colour of the recently concluded All Progressives Congress (APC) convention, the president’s predisposition is toward selecting aspirants by parties through consensus. This bias was now written into the clause which now reads: “The procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct, indirect primaries or consensus.” While consensus is arguably the most peaceful way of running party selections in such a volatile clime as ours, it removes the democratic element where each person’s vote matters. But then, it can be argued that true democracy cannot be attained in one fell swoop.
Again, while consensus may work in the APC, where, because of the element of incumbency, might is right, such an arrangement is bound to fall flat within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is more prone to a rigorous, more free-for-all style of selection; more so, in Cross River State, which is anybody’s game going forward. Or is it?
Cross River State’s situation is interesting. There has been a laborious debate about which zone should produce the next governor. This debate is across both parties. The incumbent, Senator Benedict Ayade, is rounding up his administration, having almost completed his two terms. He belongs to the APC and is a strong advocate for power to go to the south. Because of his firm grip on the party, this may just be the way that things may go for APC, even though it has been gathered that some stalwarts in the Central Senatorial District want to tip the apple cart by coming out to declare. Only time would tell.
In the Cross River State PDP, there is a freer disposition of aspirants. Long before the official bell was sounded, candidates from the Central Senatorial District had declared their intention to vie for the gubernatorial seat. This produced some discomfort within the southern caucus of the party, which, citing a previous agreement, averred that the next governor should indeed come from the south. Many meetings had been held to resolve this imbroglio to no end. In the end, it has been implicitly accepted that the race is open to any aspirant, no matter the geographical base.
The race within the APC seems to be a three-way race. From a dipstick poll, it is evident that the front-runners are Senator Bassey Otu, Arc. Bassey Ndem and Asuquo Ekpenyong, present Commissioner for Finance. There is Ben Akak, a dark horse who may spring some surprise. It is possible that given the national flavour of the APC, the eventual CRS gubernatorial candidate from the party will be thrown up by a consensus arrangement.
The race in the PDP is more rigorous with Senator Gershom Bassey leading the pack, closely marked by Senator Sandy Onor, and Dan Asuquo (popularly known as DanSuki) coming as a third option. The selection is bound to be Indirect Primaries. Here, delegates to the State Congress of the party where the primaries will be carried out would be selected at the Ward Congress level. The selection process is rigorous but democratic.
What are the permutations for the election of the eventual Cross River State governor in 2023? Let us bear in mind that despite his defection to the APC, Cross River State is still a PDP state, the events of the last by-elections in the north, notwithstanding. So, it can be surmised that the race is clearly between Ayade and the PDP. On their own, the APC aspirants lack the individual clout to upset the juggernauts in the PDP. That is a fact.
Senator Bassey Otu was defeated twice in 2015 and 2019 by Senator Gershom Bassey, who is the current senator representing the Southern Senatorial District. It is doubtful if Otu can overturn the series of defeats now that he has weakened his southern base by going to APC. In a two-way race, Gershom Bassey will take Central Senatorial District. Because of the Ayade factor in the North, Otu will be fortunate there. Gershom Bassey of PDP will ultimately be the winner.
But against, Sandy Onor, Otu will be luckier. He will take the South and the North and lose the Central. It will be an electoral skirmish, but Otu does have the chance to be the next Cross River State governor here.
A two-way race between Otu and DanSuki will see a dog fight in the South – a possible 50-50. Otu may take Central and the North. Otu will be the winner against a DanSuki.
Bassey Ndem, a brilliant architect and entrepreneur, is new to the political field. But against the candidates from the PDP, he will lose in all the senatorial districts except, perhaps, the North. In a two-way race against the PDP candidates, he does not stand a chance.
Another neophyte, Asuquo Ekpenyong is the current Commissioner for Finance. He is touted as Ayade’s preferred candidate. He has yet to declare his aspirations but may emerge by consensus. By just like Ndem, he is bound to lose all the zones, except, perhaps, the North.
The permutations against the APC candidates may cause Ayade to run a very aggressive political rally against the PDP. He has so much at stake. This is a battle for survival for him in a very personal way. A loss by APC will be a very great loss for him. It is only left to conjecture as to why he must fight the fight of his life. His situation is even more precarious, given the legal battle that he is embroiled in concerning his defection from the PDP.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Senator Gershom Bassey is PDP’s best foot forward. A Bassey win is vital for the PDP to regain control of the affairs of Cross River State. But he faces a determined adversary, Senator Benedict Ayade. The election is Senator Gershom Bassey’s to lose.
- Ndifreke Okpon is a businessman and a public affairs commentator and lives in Abuja